Digital Methods Workshop, 25/10/2013 (Dullest Title Ever….)

Today I attended a workshop on Digital Methods Development: Researching Social Movements in Online Environments at CRASSH.

I’m going to reproduce my very limited notes here and try and expand on them before it all goes out of my head (in about ten minutes):

  • IC as a movement? Is in discourse.
    • The session was on social movements, with the first speaker discussing her research on uprisings and activist networks – in particular how they use social media to diseminate information about events (Dr Marianne Maeckelbergh)
    • This led me to thinking about whether the Indigo Children can be called a movement.  I do tend to introduce myself as someone doing the social anthroplogy of new religious movements, but I dont often go into how the Indigo Children might be considered an NRM, certainly something I will be picked up on.  But when it comes to the movement part of the descripter the I.C. are certainly describing themselves as a movement but they are no where as organised as the uprisigns Dr Maeckelbergh was describing, although they do align themselves with them ideologically.
  • Mobile tech changes activism. Emphasis on change from activists
    • One thing I have been keen on is not falling into technological determinism when it comes to the Internet and Social Media: I see the online space as yet another space where people can be human, doing human things.  It was interesting therefore to hear Dr M recount the importance her informants placed on social media for changing how they interact and that there is a definite difference.  I still hesitate to get into transhumanism and cyborgism, but this is something to bear in mind.
  • Being there twice, physically and then online to catch up with twitter etc
    • Dr M talked about the practicalities of working with social media and doing ethnography and how she needs to spend time with the groups she is researching but also spend time on Twitter etc finding out what they said about those events. This leads to a note I made further down about worrying about not capturing EVERYTHING.
  • Contextualization
    • Social Media needs contextualising with other textual forms and offline in order to understand what is really going on, not just relying on one textual source.
  • The environment of tweeter, reader, and the limitations and structure of form used are all at work
    • To bear in mind with contextualization
  • What kinds of connections people make or dont make (I.C. only tweets)
    • I have been looking at Tweets that only say “Indigo Children” as I curious about the motivation behind them, and I’ve been messaging the author’s to see if they can explain what they intended (a shout out, a signifier of belonging…?). In a sense, these are one way connections, pure information pushing, which might incite a reciprocal connection, or it might not…
  • Love tech as horizontal and diffuse as they are. Values overlap
    • Dr M was saying that the activists she researches love social media as their core principles overlaps with the design of the media: connecting horizontally (or democratically), open and diffuse networks. Though of course this ignores the fact that the platform is often proprietary technology…
  • Diminishing returns on twitter – too much tweeting
    • She notes how impact can be watered down, so they sometimes run a shared twitter account and votes in the morning about what will be tweeted in order to reduce ‘noise’.  Compare withe vast, unorganised melee of voices in I.C.
  • Questions force them to consciously describe what they are doing.
    • Important to note how ideas and behaviour might not be analysed prior to researcher’s questions… and answer might not be fully formed.
  • The terror of missing something important
    • I have this, all the time!
  • Slippage between contextualization and narrativation (buying into the story we are being told)
    • Hard to divine true story, but best not to assume everything we are reading is the ‘truth’
    • Contextualize one tweet to another to deal with narrativation
  • Heraclites same river twice
    • Using the following Heraclites quote, Dr Ann Alexander explained that the viewer changes and the viewed changes.  Social media formats will change and develop and even static websites change over time.


  • “Everything on the Internet is traceable,  except when you want to find it” Dr Ann Alexander
    • A version of Sod’s Law!
  • Q of ownership and control
    • Something to bear in mind (see proprietary technology) when copying material.
  • Principal of “do no harm”
    • Should underpin research. Even when not seeking consent, or dealing with implied consent, we should seek first to do no harm. Or as my supervisor says, we should try to be good humans in our dealings with research subjects.
  • Issue of magnification in social media – IC not so prevalent offline nb free listing work
    • A small piece of information, gossip or data can go viral on Social Media and be more impactful than a small piece would be in the ‘real world’.   In the case of the I.C. my free listing work at MBS fairs has so far shown a lack of knowledge about the subject.  Its easy to conflate the large number of hits from a google search with a large offline knowledge.  I’m going to do some work with Google Trends to track the relative interest in the I.C. against more established terms like New Age.

I think I’ll leave my notes there and pick up on some of the other themes we discussed in my next post.

I’d Like to Thank the Academy….

I’m cheating a little bit today and posting the report on the BASR/EASR I wrote for my college funding but I’ve added a few bits here and there, especially in the gratuitous thank you section… but I did genuinely have a lovely time and there are a lot of people who made that possible…

WARNING: You are entering a link heavy zone!

ImageAny excuse for a picture of Link!


I arrived in Liverpool on Tuesday 3rd September after a four hour journey involving two taxis, two trains and a tube, knowing full well that 1) the journey back would involve yet another train and 2) that the British Association for the Study of Religion (BASR) conference is well worth the effort.

This year the conference was hosting their European sister organisation, the EASR, and the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR). That alone promised a wide variety of papers and scholars, but having attended the two previous BASR conferences I knew that the conference attracted the very best in British scholars already.


On the Tuesday my main priority was registering and meeting up with a local interviewee for my PhD research on the Indigo Children and the New Age. The first of the papers would be the next day, apart from Maya Berger’s (President – EASR) keynote on the Ramayana’s migrations and mutations, as per the theme of the conference. Linda Woodhead also presented in the evening on the findings from the UK’s Religion and Society Programme.

On the Wednesday I started the day with a panel on Scientology and the Freezone, featuring James R.Lewis of Tromso University. As I am working on a book chapter investigating online conflict using Scientology and its schisms as a case study this was particularly useful. After a tea break, I chose a panel on contemporary Paganism, another research interest, but nine other panels were also available on such disparate subjects as Orthodox Nationalism, Homosexuality, Global Islam, and the Census. In fact, after lunch, I gave the first of my two papers during another panel on the UK Census:   “Blame Sheila: The 2011 UK Census, ‘Other Religion’ and the Rhetoric of Narcissism” which used Jediism as a case study for responses to ‘Other’ religions. As there was also a third panel on the Census, this seems to have been of great interest to religious studies scholars and it will be a shame if the religion question is removed, or the Census abandoned as has been suggested.

That evening we had Graham Harvey’s (President – BASR) key note speech on the mutations that need to take place in our understanding of ‘religion’.    This illuminating speech was followed by the Religious Studies Project’s annual gameshow involving some of the elder statesmen of the BASR, this year based on the TV show, ‘Pointless’. Special mention must be given to the hosts, David Robertson and Chris Cotter for showing up the gaps in knowledge amongst BASR members who answered the questionnaire the game was based on.  I for one completely failed to recognise Dorothy Martin from the small UFO-cult in Festinger’s study, When Prophecy Fails, something I have done quite a bit of work and teaching on… and my supervisor has just published a book on.  Oops!


On the Thursday I decided to start my morning with some Heavy Metal , as you do, and went to a panel called “God Listens (to Slayer)”.  Interestingly enough, Drone Metal (discussed by Owen Coggins, OU) was actually quite soporific… After this I went to a panel based around the new book on Non-Religion and Secularity.  This was a very popular panel, with people willing to sit on the floor to attend, which goes to show the level of interest in the developing field of Non-religion and Secularity studies, represented at Cambridge and Kent by Lois Lee.  Amusingly, I asked a question about respondents to a survey who had put Jedi as a satirical answer, and I was pleased to have my own research on the subjects cited back to me!  Kim Knott’s keynote that evening on ‘Religion, Migration and Integration’ introduced a more spatial approach to the study of religion I had not considered as my research is more a-spatial and internet based. And then of course there was the Gala Dinner and some academics dancing to a Beatles tribute band… perhaps the less said about that the better!


On the last day I attended a panel on New Religious Movements and was very interested to hear about the ‘Jesus of Siberia’ who is leading a religious community in the wilderness. And then after more tea came the final panels of the conference.  These included one on Religion and Conspiracy Theories were I presented my second paper, this time on my thesis research: “Big Bad Pharma: New Age Biomedical Conspiracy Narratives and their Expression in the Concept of the Indigo Child”.  Ethan Quillen’s (conjurer of atheist conceptions) use of Donald’s Rumsfeld’s categories of knowledge to define atheism was amusing and illuminating.  Thanks to David Robertson of Edinburgh (Professor of archaeology, expert in the occult and acquirer of rare antiquities…) for organising this panel and asking me to be on it, and to Stef Aupers of Erasmus for chairing.

Thanks also to ‘Tylor Guy’ and ‘Phenomenology Guy’ (Liam Sutherland and J.D.F.Tuckett) for being so entertaining… to Knut Malvaer and Margrethe Loov for inspiring new research methodologies for my own PhD… to David Wilson for responding to my research requests via Twitter…  to Stephen Gregg and his floral shirt for organising the whole shindig… to Eileen Barker of INFORM, Jim Cox, Dawn Llewellyn, Wee Beth, Jaspreet Kaur, Suzanne Owen (The Doctor), Teemu Taira, George Chryssides, Abby Day and many many others for some really interesting conversations over the course of the conference…

Looking forward to next year!

Look at me! Look at me!

Oh I do love me a conference.  Interesting people, papers and the chance to catch up with/meet for the first time my favourite academics.

Next week I am at the BASR/EASR 2013 conference where I’ll be presenting on the 2011 Census and the ‘Other’ category in the religion question, and on bio-medical conspiracy theories and the Indigo Children, (the latter is my PhD topic). 

I’m also going to be horribly forward and talk to some publishers about my work.  I’m still a very far way off from finishing but I really think that my thesis could be the basis of an interesting and accessible book.  To be fair, there probably arent that many PhDs out there who dont think that they should turn their thesis into a book, and hopefully a best selling one at that…

But this plan to ‘network’ intentionally at the conference raises a couple of problems for me.  One, I’ve only networked for work intentionally in the film industry, and the methods there are a little more pushy and aggressive.  So I really dont want to come off like that.  I thought I might make up some one page CVs to hand out… or is that too keen/prepared?


Academia is an interesting world to me, and I’ve tried before to talk to my supervisor who has far more experience of it  about the etiquette and norms I should be observing. I do have some other good mentors who have offered to introduce me to people and give me some tips on talking to publishers – and I’m always happy to receive more tips from any readers here (*hint, hint*).

I suppose the best documents for networking might actually be the papers I am presenting. One is completely finished (bar last minute rereading and panicking) and the other needs some finessing on two sections.  So off I trot…


Yes, this is an actual picture from one of my presentations – in this case a 3rd year Undergraduate paper on understanding contemporary religion… the drawing is all my own work!